Ludum Dare is a game jam that happens a few times a year. We often see many success stories that come out of game jams. TRI, Gods will be Watching and the game with all the brawn - Broforce - are just a small example of some of the games created during these sessions. The Sun and Moon is a game jam game doing well and getting a bigger and better full release which did well enough on PC, PS4 and Vita to justify a release on Xbox One.
Winner of Ludum Dare 29, The Sun and Moon is a puzzle game with a very cool mechanic. The basics of gameplay have you jumping from platform to platform as a small ball collecting three glowing orbs to open a portal to progress. Very nice, very simple and very fun so far. It is important to point out that before even getting to the game's unique mechanic it controls perfectly; you always feel like you have complete control over the ball. The twist comes in the form of you pressing a button and phasing through the solid platform you are jumping on. Instead of just falling through, the platforms launch you back out and into the air allowing you to gain extra height. This takes The Sun and Moon from a potentially lacklustre game to one that becomes a joy to play. Jumping from platform to platform collecting the orbs and then launching yourself higher with a well-timed phase is fun to pull off and very rewarding.
The mechanic and levels work in tandem to really drive home how well designed the game is. The starting levels ease you in and teach you how to play - without a direct tutorial, by the way - then start to bump up in difficulty as you progress. Levels do not have to be taken linearly either. If you are finding a particular level hard to complete you can skip it and go directly to another level. The game works with a branching path system and it makes for a nice way to allow a player to progress without them getting stuck on a certain level. Later in the game new mechanics are introduced in the form of different level obstacles. Disappearing platforms, killer fire and spike balls are all slowly introduced and fully explored. The Sun and Moon doesn’t seem happy to just give you great level design it wants to always test you and the game is rewarding for doing so.
Boss battles are also present. They still follow the style of collecting the three orbs and progressing to the portal but now a ghost like creature is trying to stop you. If you collide with the ghost your ball goes pop and you have to start the level over again. The levels themselves are not particularly challenging but the ghost really does increase the challenge. That ghost is out to get your little ball and it will stop at nothing until it has consumed you.
Each level also comes with a timed challenge that rewards you dependent on how fast you finished the level. The challenge offers three different times to overcome. These times are not easy either, to use all your skills to achieve the lowest challenge time. The highest time feels like they are strictly for speedrunners only but are fun to try and beat. Playing through casually would net you third place on one or two levels but first place is limited to only those who are willing to master each level. Once you get an advanced understanding of how to use the platforms to your advantage you may eventually achieve that second tier score.
Gameplay is very important and some may argue that games are not games without interactivity, that as an interactive medium we can ignore what we are seeing on screen as long as the player can play. It feels that The Sun and Moon follows this idea, as while its gameplay is an absolute joy its visual elements and sound are very poor.
The aesthetic of the game is like a Jackson Pollack painting on acid. The platforms themselves are very clear and stick out, but the backgrounds are just a mess. It is stylised like camouflage but rave edition camo, with contradicting colours that become an absolute eye ache to look at for more than a few minutes. The starting levels and later levels are not too offensive to the eye but the middle sections are just full of bad colour combinations. Now, this could be intentional as having these bright and over-the-top backgrounds does allow the platforms to take centre stage but eventually your eye will start to hurt when trying to focus. It just become far too distracting to play for long periods of time.
The music is also poor. It doesn’t start off well and it doesn’t get better. Just the same blips and bloops for the whole game… or what feels like the whole game. There are music changes but they seem to trigger randomly. After playing for long lengths of time it would seem like the music would change only to change back to the same blips and bloops heard earlier. The Sun and Moon could have really benefited from something a little more relaxing as the game is very cathartic to play. Having some piano-based music in the background or just more variety that changed with every few stages would have really benefited the experience. Maybe this is a bug within the game and with an update this will be corrected, but in its current state it seems intentional.
The Sun and Moon is a great game mechanically. It is fun to play with each level well designed and constantly testing the player’s abilities. However, aesthetically it is just an absolute mess. The backgrounds are a nightmare to look at for long periods of time and the whole middle section’s choice of background and colour make the game a challenge to play. The music is very repetitive and will have you eventually hitting the mute button and putting on music of your own. It is a real disappointment as with better art direction and music this game would come highly recommended. However, the state it is in right now only puts it at a maybe. That is a top level maybe though, a “maybe” that is just short of a “recommended” as it is a very fun to play, as long as you don’t look at it for too long.